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Monday, Nov 24, 2014
Commentary

The lost art of talking to our children


Published:

First, I must say technology is important and an integral part of education today. However, do we really need the DVD player for the 20-minute car ride to school or the smartphone for entertainment in the grocery store? Are we allowing our children to spend too much time with technology instead of time communicating with them?

Think about it: What better time to talk to your child than when you're driving the car?

With our busy lifestyles it seems we don't have time to talk to our kids anymore. So, why not take the 20 minutes that your children are held captive in their car seats to talk to them - really talk to them? Ask them what they did at school, what was the best part of their day, or play car games ("Let's find something that begins with the letter "a").

When you go to the grocery store, talk about the different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Compare their size and color. Make it a learning experience!

One reason talking to your children is important is that their language will develop much faster.

Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, child psychologists at the University of Kansas, designed the most comprehensive research project ever conducted on language acquisition in the home. This 1995 study asked why some children develop language quicker and more effectively than others. They found that as early as 3 years of age, language development depended on the number of words children heard in their early years.

All of the parents in the study spoke to their children throughout the course of their day. And they all generally talked about the same things. However, those children who heard more words from their parents in the first few years of life had much larger vocabularies by the time they were 3.

Professional parents spoke to their children an average of 487 times an hour while the children of less well-off parents had heard only 176 words an hour. This part of the study was completed when the children were 3.

But what comes next is even more dramatic. Some of the children were re-evaluated at 9 to 10 years of age. The psychologists studying the children stated, "We were awestruck at how well our measures of accomplishments at age 3 predicted measures of language skills at age 9-10."

They calculated that by age 4, the children with smaller vocabularies had heard 32 million fewer words from their parents, and this had a major impact on how their children spoke and understood language at 9-10 years of age.

So the next time you are in the car or at the grocery store with your children, turn off the DVD and radio. Turn off the smartphones. Talk, ask and listen. Engage your children.

What you do with your children in the first four years of their life will have a lasting impact on their future. When your children are grown and out of the home, you will look back on this time as some of the most enjoyable time you spent with your children - and you will want more.

Teresa Burgess has been the director of Boman Academy Preschool in Carrollwood for more than 14 years. She received a bachelor of science in education in speech and language pathology and a master of science degree from the University of Central Missouri. She has more than 25 years of experience in education.

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